Senate careers prolonged

14 May 2018


The lucky fortunes of politics have shone on the Liberal Party and the Greens, though not in ways that you might think.  They might be far apart in terms of where they sit on the political fence, but in recent months some in their ranks have enjoyed lucky breaks.

With numerous politicians disqualified as a result of a court ruling over dual citizenship, although by-elections have followed in relation to members of the House of Representatives, the story has been different in relation to the Senate.

When Senators are disqualified, a recount of the Senate vote takes place in their former states or territories.  Usually, a disqualified Senator’s running mate from the same party or group ends up coming into the Senate.  Meanwhile, another running mate is simply moved up the order.

The lucky thing surrounding the dual citizenship saga, and those disqualified politicians, is that some people, specifically in the Senate, have found themselves taking the next election off.  The result of the saga is that some Senate careers have been unexpectedly prolonged.

Federal elections usually have six Senate seats up for grabs in each state, noting that each state has twelve Senators, with half of them facing the voters at each election on a rotating basis.  However, the last election, in 2016, was a double-dissolution, which doesn’t happen much in Australia, and all twelve Senate seats were therefore up for grabs in every state in 2016.  At that election, it was decided that, out of each state’s twelve Senators, the last six to be elected would be facing the voters at the next election, which will happen by June 2019 at the very latest, while the first six to be elected wouldn’t be facing the voters until the election after next, due by June 2022.

As such, there are four lucky Senators, specifically three Liberals and a Green.

The easiest explanation of luck surrounds Rachel Siewert, a Green from Western Australia.  She was originally elected twelfth, while another Green, Scott Ludlam, was elected third.  Although the Greens won considerably fewer votes than both the Liberals and the Labor Party, they won more than enough votes to be assured of at least one seat, and as the first candidate on the Senate ticket for the Greens, Ludlam was duly elected.  He was among those disqualified over dual citizenship, and Siewert, as the second candidate for the Greens in the 2016 election, therefore was considered their “first” candidate in the recount, so she was moved to third, while the candidate directly below Siewert, Jordon Steele-John was elected twelfth in Siewert’s former place.  Siewert was due to face the voters at the next election, but Ludlam’s disqualification enables her to have the next election off.

It’s important to note that when Senate votes are counted, the major parties often win more than enough votes to be guaranteed two or three seats each, although the Greens sometimes win enough votes to be guaranteed seats when counting starts.  But as long as parties win enough votes to be guaranteed seats, no matter how far ahead of or behind their rivals they are, they are among the first declared elected.  In WA, for example, the Liberals and Labor won enough votes for several seats, and the Greens won enough votes for one seat, but on those grounds, they were the third to have someone declared elected.  After that, the major parties naturally had more candidates declared elected, and the Greens had more votes come to them on preferences, so they won a second seat.

Similarly, in New South Wales, Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells moved up the order from seventh to fifth after a National, Fiona Nash, was disqualified in the dual citizenship saga.  Because the Liberals and the Nationals ran a joint Senate ticket in NSW, they had a mix of Liberals and Nationals there.  In 2016, Nash was the fifth to be declared elected, but as a result of her disqualification, Fierravanti-Wells now avoids facing the voters at the next election.

But the luckiest Senators must surely be two Liberals from Tasmania, Jonathon Duniam and David Bushby.  They were elected seventh and ninth respectively, before the disqualification of Liberal Senator Stephen Parry and crossbencher Jacqui Lambie.  However, their fate is trickier to explain.

As the second Liberal Senate candidate, Parry finished up as the fifth Tasmanian Senator elected.  His disqualification moved Duniam up to fifth, enabling Duniam to have the next election off.

But the disqualification of Lambie, who was fourth elected, really messed things up.  Her party didn’t win a big share of the vote overall, but her personal vote, combined with her party’s vote, enabled her to win a seat.  Her disqualification meant that her party didn’t have enough votes to be guaranteed a seat, although the party ultimately got one on preferences.  This ultimately shifted the party down the order to ninth, while other candidates moved up the order.  Duniam subsequently ended up having been elected fourth, and Bushby moved to sixth, with a Labor candidate between them.  This means that Bushby, like Duniam, avoids facing the voters at the next election.

The dual citizenship saga therefore leaves four Senators having longer time within the parliamentary chamber than expected.  Few can enjoy such luck.



Little passion as Marshall gets home

29 April 2018


South Australian voters have turned to the Liberal Party for the first time in more than twenty years.  Admittedly, they probably were turning to the Liberals on more than one occasion after the last Liberal win, in 1997, but not enough for the Liberals to actually win an election until last month.

The election ended sixteen years of governance by the Labor Party, which gained power in early 2002.  Back then, Labor only took power with the help of crossbench support after a hung election.  The next elections, in 2006 and 2010, delivered clear Labor wins, before Labor lost its majority in 2014 and had to rely on crossbenchers to govern once more.  An unlikely win in a by-election later that year enabled Labor to regain its majority, which stayed intact until a Labor MP went to the crossbench.

Realistically, voters were wanting to throw Labor out when the 2014 election came around, but a decent swing to the Liberals didn’t deliver them victory because the votes weren’t in the swinging seats that they needed.  This time, they got the votes where they needed them.

Apart from a long stint in office and the usual signs of age, Labor had problems with a state economy in poor shape, and major concerns about the reliability of electricity supplies within the state – a series of major power blackouts in recent years really highlighted those concerns, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Given Labor’s length of time in office and the concerns over electricity, I’d suggest that voters turned out the lights on Labor.

Despite Labor’s problems going into the election last month, there were still doubts about whether the Liberals could win.  Until last month’s election, apart from their last election win in 1997, their only previous election wins over the past forty years or so had been in 1979 and 1993.  They’d arguably been in a position to win several elections during the past forty years, but they were often coming up short.  As well as this bad record, the Liberals weren’t exactly enthusing voters, even though voters were probably desperate to get rid of Labor, though opinion polls didn’t show this.

Liberal leader Steven Marshall wasn’t exactly popular with voters.  Indeed, despite the things hindering Labor, Premier Jay Weatherill was regarded as more popular than Marshall.  Moreover, when popular politician Nick Xenophon announced that he’d leave Federal Parliament to contest a seat in this election, in one opinion poll voters regarded him more highly than both Weatherill and Marshall.

Nevertheless, I predicted that Marshall would win the election, although not with that much confidence.  I just felt that voters were wanting to send Labor packing, and the Liberals were able to convince them that nothing but a vote for the Liberals was the only way to change direction in South Australia.  Even a vote for Xenophon and his party was painted as potentially enabling Labor to stay in office, whether with crossbench support or not – in other words, more of the same.

In the end, the Liberals managed to narrowly win the election, despite little passion among voters for them.  With forty-seven seats up for grabs, the Liberals came away with twenty-five, equating to a narrow win.

Moreover, as Marshall gets home with this narrow win, he’s only the third Liberal leader in forty years to win an election, so history won’t seem kind to him.

In terms of seats won, I tipped the Liberals to win by more than they actually did.

I correctly tipped them to win Colton and Elder and Newland, all Labor seats from 2014.  They also won the new seat of King, and regained some seats from MPs who became Independents after the 2014 election.

But I got several seats wrong.  I didn’t tip Labor to hold the seats of Lee and Mawson and Wright, or to win the new seats of Badcoe and Hurtle Vale.  Labor had won seats like these in the past when they were predicted to fall, through strong campaigning at local levels – such campaigning probably saved Labor from a bigger defeat.  Labor finished with nineteen seats.

There were three Independents elected, only one of whom I’d tipped to win.  Geoff Brock held his seat of Frome, as I’d expected.  But the other two Independents were both formerly with the major parties, and I’d tipped their seats to go back to where they’d been in 2014 – this wasn’t to be.

As for Xenophon, who ran for the Liberal-held seat of Hartley, I’d tipped him to lose, because I didn’t believe that he enjoyed a strong level of local support across a group of suburbs, which was what he really needed to win that seat.  And sure enough, he was defeated.  Surprisingly, though, he was actually eliminated during the counting of preferences.  He came second to the Liberals on primary votes, but Labor passed him with preferences from other candidates, albeit not enough to beat the Liberals.

Also, the two major parties both won four of eleven seats up for grabs in the Upper House, while Xenophon’s party took two seats and the Greens took one seat.

The result of the election will buoy the Liberals, getting their first South Australian win for two decades.  But their past record makes one wonder whether they’ll stay good until the next election.


Tasmania’s messy Senate reshuffle

23 April 2018


The Senate now looks different to what it looked like after the last election, in the middle of 2016.  While some Senators have departed voluntarily since then, more have been booted out because of court rulings.

Many of those Senators to be booted out were found to be dual citizens, meaning that they were citizens of both Australia and other countries, which in turn meant that they weren’t eligible to run for Parliament.  They started falling by the wayside in the middle of 2017, when the Greens lost Scott Ludlam, who’d won a Senate seat in Western Australia, after revelations were made that he was a dual citizen.  With more Senators suspected of dual citizenship, their eligibility to run for Parliament was examined in court.  Subsequent court rulings saw them disqualified, as a result of which the Senate vote in various states had to be recounted.

Probably the messiest recount took place in Tasmania, where popular crossbencher Jacqui Lambie and Liberal Senator Stephen Parry were disqualified.  If only Parry had been disqualified, it would’ve been a simple case of moving candidates behind him up in order.  But Lambie’s disqualification made things messy.

The Liberal Party won four Senate seats in Tasmania.  Eric Abetz led the Liberal Senate ticket at the election, with Parry second.  After them came Jonathon Duniam, David Bushby, and Richard Colbeck.  Of this bunch, the only existing non-Senator was Duniam.  With the Liberal vote at the election not strong enough to win more than four seats, the fifth-placed Colbeck, who’d been in the Senate since 2002, was the unlucky loser.  But after Parry was caught up in the dual citizenship saga and subsequently disqualified, Duniam was classified as the second Liberal candidate and Bushby was classified as the third, and Colbeck was able to return to the Senate.

However, the disqualification of Lambie ended making the Senate recount difficult in Tasmania.  The reason for this was how Senate votes are conventionally counted.

When you vote for Senators in a Federal election, you receive what is often a large ballot paper, with lots of candidates.  On the paper is a thick black line, with many boxes above it and many more boxes below it.  The boxes above the line represent parties and groups, while the boxes below it represent candidates.  You can either vote for your choice of party or group above that black line, or vote for your choice of candidates below it.

In this context, I refer to the vote above the line as the party vote, and the vote below the line as the personal vote.

When the Senate votes are counted, a party’s vote above the line is added to its first candidate’s vote below the line.  This combination of party vote and personal vote shows against the party’s first candidate.

In the counting of the Senate votes in Tasmania, candidates ended up needing over 26,000 votes to win a seat.  Lambie’s party vote came to less than 17,000.  But Lambie herself had a personal vote of over 11,000.  Adding these together, Lambie therefore was classified as winning almost 28,000 votes – more than enough to win a seat.

But when Lambie was disqualified amid the dual citizenship saga, her personal vote was allocated to other candidates, based on where voters had marked their second preferences – or a “2” – on their ballot papers.  Because her party won nowhere near enough votes to secure a Senate seat without her personal vote, the next candidate dropped down the order when party votes and personal votes were combined.

When Lambie was a candidate, her party vote and personal vote got her into fourth place.  Without her vote, her party’s next candidate dropped to ninth.

In the recount, Liberal candidate Duniam went from seventh to fourth, while the Labor Party had Senator Helen Polley moving from sixth to fifth.  The Liberals had Bushby going from ninth to sixth, and Labor Senator Carol Brown went from eighth to seventh.  Colbeck went from being defeated to taking eighth spot.

This basically illustrates Tasmania’s messy Senate reshuffle after the disqualification of Lambie from Parliament.  Reshuffles often happen in Senate vote recounts, but the mess after Lambie’s disqualification mightn’t be repeated for some time yet.


Greiner’s close victory

16 April 2018


Last month marked a political anniversary of sorts.  But hardly anybody in the Liberal Party, especially in New South Wales, needs reminding of it.

I even wonder if the Liberals, when looking back on that anniversary, find themselves pondering how it went wrong after what seemed so momentous an event for them.

Political enthusiasts would know that last month marked thirty years since the Liberals, led by Nick Greiner, took power with a memorable election win, in March 1988.  This election win ended twelve years of power for the Labor Party.  When Greiner won in 1988, his triumph was seen as a big one.  I was a teenager at that time, and I remember Greiner as a very popular leader in those days.

As Premier, Greiner turned out to be quite good, especially when it came to managing the NSW economy.  For sure, he made some unpopular decisions which were considered sensible for the economy, but he still seemed popular enough.  On the other hand, might he have looked popular simply because Labor didn’t look credible?  People will probably agree to disagree over that.

But when you look more closely at Greiner’s 1988 election win, it probably wasn’t that big at all.  It might’ve felt big because of how long it’d been since the last Liberal election win in NSW, back in 1973.  If anything, the results of that election in 1988 were closer than they looked, and Greiner’s win wasn’t that big.

Needing 55 seats to win the election, out of 109 available seats, the final tally for Greiner and his team was 59.  This hardly equated to a big win, at least in a mathematical sense.

Perhaps the thing making Greiner’s close win look bigger was Labor’s tally from that election.  Labor won only 43 seats – 16 seats less than Greiner and his team won.

Greiner could only afford to lose a relative handful of seats to protect his parliamentary majority.  But Labor needed several such handfuls of seats to get a majority.  And having lost in a big way, Labor didn’t look like it could get near Greiner and the Liberals when the next election came.

History shows, however, that when voters next went to the polls in NSW, Greiner ended up losing his majority, and could only govern with crossbench support.  In the aftermath of Labor’s 1988 loss, Bob Carr had become Labor leader, and he didn’t look like a leader capable of troubling Greiner.  But Carr brought Labor really close to victory, and years later he managed to lead Labor to an election win and was Premier for ten years.  Labor won another election after Carr stepped down – only to implode and comprehensively lose an election to the Liberals in 2011.

Going back to 1988, while Greiner and the Liberals hadn’t won the election by a large margin, something making Labor’s recovery harder was the size of the crossbench.

No fewer than seven crossbench MPs were elected in 1988.  Three of them were already there going into the election – North Shore MP Ted Mack, Wollongong MP Frank Arkell, and South Coast MP John Hatton.  There was a fourth crossbencher with them, namely former Labor MP George Petersen, but he was defeated in his seat of Illawarra at that election.  Despite Petersen’s defeat, four new crossbenchers were elected.

Possibly the most famous of the new crossbench MPs was Dawn Fraser, a legendary swimmer from the 1950s and 1960s.  She stood as an Independent in Balmain, a Labor seat in inner Sydney, and won.  Labor lost two other seats to Independents, both outside Sydney, with Ivan Welsh winning Swansea and George Keegan winning Newcastle.

Interestingly, the other new Independent from that election, Clover Moore, triumphed over a Liberal MP, in inner Sydney.  She defeated Liberal frontbencher Michael Yabsley in the seat of Bligh.  Yabsley’s defeat would’ve been one of the few lowlights for Greiner and the Liberals in their moment of triumph.

When the next election in NSW came, in 1991, most of the Independents were defeated, with only Hatton and Moore making it back.  However, two more Independents, Peter Macdonald and Tony Windsor, were elected.  With Greiner losing his majority in 1991, he became reliant on these Independents to govern.

The following year, a scandal involving a former minister forced Greiner to resign from the top job.  Some say that the Liberals, shellshocked at losing him, recovered perhaps more slowly than they should have when he went.  They didn’t enjoy a leader like him for many years.

Considering that Greiner’s close win happened just over thirty years ago, the Liberals might still wonder today how different things would be if not for his departure.


Retirement possibly saving Turnbull

8 April 2018


The closeness of the last Federal election doesn’t really need repeating.  Having taken power in 2013 with a healthy majority, the Liberal-National Coalition got there in no small part due to leadership squabbles within the Labor Party over the previous few years.  But the Labor squabblers left politics, and Labor became popular with voters again.  The Coalition, led by Tony Abbott, hadn’t been popular under his leadership, and looked certain of election defeat until Malcolm Turnbull rolled Abbott in a shock coup in 2015.  Turnbull was initially popular, but his popularity didn’t stay very high for long, and when election time came in 2016, he almost lost.

Winning a Federal election requires 76 seats.  As counting of the votes from the 2016 election took place, it initially looked like neither the Coalition nor Labor would win the election outright.  Parliament looked like it’d be hung – as it’d been two elections earlier, in 2010.  That hung election in 2010 was the first in Australia, at a national level, since the 1940s.  And the period between elections in 2010 and 2013 was very nasty, as 2010 loser Abbott tried whatever he could to force the country back to the polls.  Election night in 2016 looked like seeing in a return of those unpleasant years after 2010.  In the end, the Coalition only just got to 76 seats, without having to deal with crossbench MPs, so a hung result was narrowly averted.

Since that close result in 2016, Turnbull hasn’t exactly enjoyed the smoothest of runs as Prime Minister.  Being a seat away from losing his majority and needing support from crossbenchers, he’s looked nothing like the leader that people were expecting him to be.  It wouldn’t have helped to have Abbott still around, perceived as lurking behind and awaiting any possibility of regaining the leadership.

Some people see Abbott’s mere presence in Parliament as distracting for Turnbull, even if Abbott’s not actually seeking to regain the leadership.  Of course, within the Coalition there are many MPs who want Turnbull gone.  And they’re unlikely to be going anywhere soon, no matter how much their critics wish for that.  The thought might be that the retirement of some, if not all, of those critics would give Turnbull clear air and the freedom to be the leader that everyone has long seen him as.

There’s not much truth in the notion of a few retirements saving Turnbull, because his critics aren’t exactly small in number.  However, perhaps ironically, there’s one retirement possibly having been a factor in saving Turnbull.

The retirement in question took place at the last election.  In another case of irony, the retirement was that of a Labor MP, whose seat the Coalition won.

I refer to Anna Burke, a Labor MP from eastern Melbourne.  Since 1998, she’d held the seat of Chisholm, which she’d won from the Liberal Party.  The seat had changed hands a few times previously.  As such, when the 2016 election came, by which time Burke had announced her retirement, I’d tipped the Liberals to win her seat, because I felt that Labor couldn’t hold it without her.  As it turned out, my prediction for that seat was correct, and the Liberals won it.  And it arguably enabled Turnbull to come out of the election with the minimum number of seats needed to win the election.

Created ahead of a general election in 1949, Chisholm was a Liberal seat for decades, falling to Labor for the first time in 1983.  This was when Labor was winning seats right across the country, under the leadership of the hugely popular Bob Hawke.

The Liberals regained Chisholm in 1987.  It was one of only two seats lost by Labor that year – the other seat was Lowe, in inner western Sydney.  The successful Liberal candidate in Chisholm was Michael Wooldridge, who would go on to hold the seat for over a decade and would serve as Health Minister in the Howard Government.

There was a swing against the Liberals in 1993, but Wooldridge was able to retain Chisholm, as were other Liberals who’d won seats from Labor in eastern Melbourne in 1990.  These Liberals were generally effective as local members.

In 1998, when the Howard Government proposed a major tax reform, Wooldridge left Chisholm to stand for a safer seat in outer Melbourne.  It was perhaps fortunate for him, as Chisholm fell to Labor.  And the Labor candidate was Burke.

There were swings against Labor a few times over the years.  But Burke was very effective at keeping Chisholm in Labor hands.  When she retired, even though there was an overall swing to Labor, her seat became vulnerable.

Her retirement made it possible for the Liberals to win her seat, and they managed to win it.  This one win arguably saved Turnbull from defeat.  This probably showed the power of incumbency.  But there would be irony in that a Labor MP’s retirement could’ve saved the Coalition from losing in 2016.


Hodgman surviving with White close

26 March 2018


The Tasmanian election of 2018 has come and gone, with few surprises.  As predicted, the Liberal Party has won a second term in office, after being elected in 2014, but its margin has shrunk to only one seat, while the Labor Party has made inroads.

Few believed that the Liberals, led by Will Hodgman, would lose.  The Liberals managed the Tasmanian economy quite well, despite some problems in key areas like education and health, so they had a useful advantage in that respect.  They also had a respectable parliamentary majority, holding fifteen of twenty-five available seats.  What also helped the Liberals was the fact that, before their election to office in 2014, Labor had governed in an uneasy alliance with the Greens, who held the balance of power at that time, and because such minority governments in the past hadn’t exactly bred much confidence within the state, voters might well have been concerned about the prospect of another alliance of sorts – sticking with the Liberals might’ve been what voters saw as avoiding another alliance like before.  So the Liberals had plenty of advantages.

The numbers weren’t with Labor before the election.  Labor had gone into the election holding only seven seats, and needed to virtually double its tally in order to win, which was always a long shot.  Although Labor leader Rebecca White was coming across as quite popular, she had a big mountain to climb.  She deserves some credit for giving Hodgman a run for his money, in terms of who voters preferred as Premier.

Nonetheless, the Liberals were expected to lose seats at the election this month, which they did.  They lost a seat apiece in the electorates of Braddon and Franklin, to finish with thirteen seats.  But the tally of thirteen was enough for them to win.

They were always going to lose a seat in Braddon, a rural electorate in the state’s west, where they’d won four out of five seats in 2014 – an incredible result.  In the end, Joan Rylah was the unlucky Liberal MP to be defeated, with Labor gaining her seat.

It was also expected that the Liberals would lose a seat in the state capital of Hobart, which is split between the electorates of Denison and Franklin.  The Liberals had won two out of five seats in Denison and three out of five seats in Franklin, so it was more likely that they’d lose one of their seats in Franklin.  And indeed that was how it turned out, with Liberal MP Nic Street defeated.  Perhaps ironically, the Premier himself holds one of the Liberal seats in Franklin, and his personal vote there was considerably higher than any other candidate’s personal vote in any other electorate, so it would’ve probably hurt him to see that his personal vote ultimately didn’t save his “neighbour”.  The lost Liberal seat in Franklin went to Labor.

As for Labor and the Opposition Leader, they gained three seats, to finish with ten seats in all.  Apart from the two seats won from the Liberals in Braddon and Franklin, they also gained a seat from the Greens in Bass, in the state’s north-east.  The Greens held three seats going into the election, specifically one seat each in Bass and Denison and Franklin, and they finished with two.  Although the Greens had become less popular during previous years, their Bass loss was something of a surprise, because they often poll better in Bass than in other rural electorates, whereas their vote in and around Hobart has always been quite strong.

As for my predictions for the election, I got the Liberal tally right, and the Labor gains from the Liberals right.  But I didn’t tip Labor’s gaining of a seat from the Greens.

In my mind, the other surprise of the election was in Denison.  Going into the election, the Liberals held two of five seats, as did Labor, while the Greens held one seat.  This split didn’t change.  But one Labor candidate, Ella Haddad, gained a seat at the expense of a sitting Labor MP, Madeleine Ogilvie.  Mind you, this kind of result has often been common in Tasmanian elections, where parties have candidates running against sitting MPs, in a kind of mate-against-mate situation.  It was also interesting that, while Labor MP Shane Broad was returned in Braddon, Labor candidate Anita Dow was actually elected ahead of him.  Again, this has long been typical in Tasmanian elections.

Summing up, this month’s Tasmanian election has seen Premier Hodgman surviving narrowly with Opposition Leader White coming close to some extent.  Although White wasn’t tipped to win, she’s put Labor in a stronger position for the next election, which will probably come in 2022.

The Liberals now hold thirteen seats out of twenty-five, so they’ll be on their toes for sure.  With Labor holding ten seats, there’s a better prospect for Labor to come, while holding two seats are the Greens.  The Liberals can’t afford to be complacent because their narrow majority will keep them honest.


South Australia votes at circus time

17 March 2018


Voters in South Australia must be hoping that, with a general election happening in their state today, they’ll be able to bring what’s really been a circus to an end.  This might be the case once the votes are all counted.  But it’ll take time to become clear.

At first glance, this election should be a walkover.  The Labor Party has governed in South Australia for sixteen years, after taking power, with crossbench support, back in 2002.  A comfortable election win followed in 2006, and then came a few narrow wins in 2010 and 2014.  Labor arguably should’ve lost that last election in 2014, but survived with crossbench support, and then narrowly won a by-election for a seat left vacant by the death of an Independent MP, which gave Labor a majority.  Now Labor looks stale after sixteen years in office, with the economy in unhealthy shape, and several major electricity blackouts during recent years raise doubts about the reliability of South Australia’s electricity grid.  Yet Labor doesn’t look gone.

Despite Labor’s troubles, there’s a real shortage of enthusiasm for the Liberal Party, led by Steven Marshall.  He’s been less than inspirational as Opposition Leader since taking the job prior to the 2014 election, and opinion polls have suggested that voters like him less than Premier Jay Weatherill.  On top of this, internal squabbling within Liberal ranks in South Australia has been a problem for over forty years, with only three elections going the Liberals’ way during that time, the last of them in 1997.

To be fair to Marshall and the Liberals, they won considerably more votes in 2014 than Labor did, but they didn’t win enough of them in marginal seats, where Labor was more effective.  A marginal seat is one in which only a small number of voters would need to switch from one party to another, therefore making the seat change hands.  Labor was particularly effective here in 2014 and in previous elections, and this has been a key factor in Labor’s ability to win difficult elections and hold office for so long.  That 2014 win also said something about Weatherill and his capability as Labor leader, and perhaps it’s no wonder that, even now, he outpolls Marshall among voters as the preferred Premier.

At the end of the day, though, you’d think that voters were still keen to throw Labor out after so long and put the Liberals in.  But another unpredictable factor is at play.

That unpredictable factor is Nick Xenophon, a former State MP who later went into Federal politics and is now coming back to contest today’s election.

Xenophon is a very popular politician, to whom South Australians have often turned when they can’t abide Labor or the Liberals.  At previous Federal elections, he’s won somewhere between a quarter and a seventh of the vote across the entire statewide, even outpolling Labor at one election.  Having formed his own political party, and with candidates contesting many seats, he’ll take votes off Labor and the Liberals.

But I tip Xenophon to lose today.  He’s challenging the Liberals in the seat of Hartley, in suburban Adelaide, and it’ll be difficult.  Despite his great popularity among South Australians overall, it’s not solid enough within any concentrated area, like a group of city suburbs or rural townships.  To win that kind of seat, a candidate really needs 35-40 per cent of the vote across a concentrated area – I’ve seen nothing suggesting that kind of local support for Xenophon.  And if the other candidates in Hartley gang up and encourage voters to direct their preferences away from him, he’ll need about 45-50 per cent of the vote, which he probably won’t get.

Mind you, I’m not writing Xenophon off.  He’s surprised everybody countless times through his career, and he could surprise again.  I won’t be totally surprised should he win today, but I just don’t think that he’ll do it.

Anyway, with Xenophon entering the fray of an election in which voters probably want Labor out but seem ambivalent about the Liberals, perhaps it’s little wonder that some describe today’s election in South Australia as a circus.

It’ll be hard to predict, if Xenophon and his candidates poll well, leaving us to guess where their preferences go – hence the idea that South Australia votes today at what seems more like circus time than simple election time.

However, my tip is for the Liberals to win, although it’ll take time to finalise.  Labor seats from 2014 which I mark as Liberal gains today are Colton, Elder, Lee, Mawson, Newland, and Wright.  I’m also tipping the Liberals to win the new seats of Badcoe, King, and Hurtle Vale.  They’ll regain some seats from Liberal-turned-Independent MPs.  And they’ll fend off Xenophon in Hartley.

Labor might only regain Florey, from a Labor MP now running as an Independent, while another Independent MP, Geoff Brock, should hold his seat of Frome.

In the Upper House, there’ll be a mix of Labor and Liberal seats, with minor players, including Xenophon’s party and the Greens, also winning seats.

The result in South Australia’s election will take time to come.  It’s been like a circus, and it’s not over yet.  But the Liberals will probably end up switching off the power on Labor’s sixteen years in office.


McCormack’s seat once in Labor hands

12 March 2018


The leadership of the Nationals has gone south.  At least that’s the case in a geographical context, although some people would argue that there’s more to it than just geography.

Revelations of an affair with a staffer might’ve effectively finished off the political career of Barnaby Joyce, who was leader of the Nationals, and with that Deputy Prime Minister, until recently.  He’s long been immensely popular, although probably more so before he led the Nationals, and he’s also been quite vocal.  For these reasons, the news of his affair would’ve been a shock.  In any case, he resigned as leader and Deputy PM when news of that affair broke, and it remains to be seen how long his career lasts.  I’ve heard nothing to suggest that he’ll retire from politics at the next election, and I suspect that, despite his indiscretion, he might stay on – he’s too popular in regional Australia to just walk way.

Nonetheless, following the downfall of Joyce, the Nationals elected Michael McCormack as leader.  With Federal election wins for the Liberal-National Coalition usually resulting in a Liberal becoming Prime Minister and a National becoming Deputy Prime Minister, McCormack naturally took the second-highest job here.

In terms of going south, some might argue that this applies to the Nationals with the loss of Joyce, who’s clearly been their most popular and vocal leader in many years.  Nothing suggests that McCormack has the fire or the popularity of Joyce, so his leadership might well reflect that.  Mind you, I reckon that Joyce was more popular as a politician before he led the Nationals.  He’d long been known as a rogue, willing to speak his mind, even when it was at odds with his colleagues and Coalition leaders, but once he’d come onto the Coalition frontbench, long before obtaining the leadership of the Nationals, he found himself in a team largely made up of Liberals with little or no understanding of regional Australia’s needs, and he couldn’t be the rogue that everybody knew him to be.

There’s no evidence of McCormack, on the other hand, having a maverick streak similar to what Joyce has.  As such, he mightn’t push the boundaries of the relationship between the Nationals and the Liberals like Joyce might’ve pushed them.

But irrespective of how McCormack performs as leader of the Nationals, the leadership has gone south in a geographical sense.  The reason is that the Nationals have a leader based in southern New South Wales, with McCormack holding the seat of Riverina, while his predecessor holds the seat of New England, in the state’s north.

McCormack has been in Parliament since 2010, when he succeeded Kay Hull in the seat of Riverina.  Hull had held it since 1998.  Her predecessor, Noel Hicks, had held it since winning it from the Labor Party in 1980.

You read it right – McCormack’s seat was once in Labor hands, but almost four decades have passed since then.

In fact, when Hicks first won Riverina, he ran under a different banner.  When you look at the Nationals in historical context, you find their banner name changing a few times.

Until about two decades ago, the politicians calling themselves Nationals would’ve been referring to their mob as the National Party – this name had been used since the 1980s.

Before the 1980s, the National Party had been known for about a decade as the National Country Party.  Prior to that, the name had been the Country Party.

Formed a few decades before the Liberal Party emerged, the Country Party came into being about a century ago.  The two governed together for over two decades from 1949, until losing office in 1972.  The rural party’s name had its changes after that.

As for Riverina, it was in Labor hands for much of the 1970s.  The highly controversial politician Al Grassby won it for Labor in 1969, and after Gough Whitlam led Labor into office in 1972, Grassby became a minister.  In 1974, Grassby lost his seat to the Country Party – he was the Whitlam Government’s biggest election casualty that year.  In 1977, Labor regained the seat, but lost it to Hicks in 1980.  Labor hasn’t held it since then.

There seems little prospect of Labor winning Riverina from McCormack when the next election comes around.  No sensible person would argue that.  But it shows how seats change over time, as attitudes change.  The biggest change likely to come, though, would be in the leadership of McCormack, which will differ from Joyce in no small measure.


Courageous Xenophon’s toughest test

10 March 2018


Lots of political enthusiasts would remember a immensely popular television comedy called YES, MINISTER.  They’d remember the politician Jim Hacker becoming a minister and discovering how how easily public servants could manipulate him.

There were many memorable moments and quotes from that TV show.  However, one memorable moment in an early episode surrounded describing ideas as “controversial” or “courageous” – at least when an election wasn’t too far away.

Calling an idea controversial was like saying, “This will lose you votes.”  Similarly, calling it courageous was like saying, “This will lose you the election.”

Somehow, that political description of courageous came into my head when I first heard about popular South Australian politician Nick Xenophon leaving Federal Parliament and running for a seat at an election in South Australia, which happens this month.

You might find it strange, but I really believe that Xenophon is being courageous with this move.  When I first heard that he was making it, I doubted that it’d work, and this remains my view at the moment.

After two decades in parliamentary chambers where his statewide support was what enabled him to win seats, he’s now running for a chamber where he needs a massive chunk of popular support across a small group of suburbs in order to win a seat, and right now I don’t believe that he has that much support.

Federal Parliament has two chambers, namely the House of Representatives and the Senate, but people are elected to these chambers in different ways.  The House of Reps consists of single-member electorates, where candidates need to win a majority of votes in order to win seats, while the Senate consists of multi-member electorates, covering each state and territory, with people elected on the basis of their vote across the entire state or territory.  The South Australian Parliament is structured similarly, with two chambers having members elected with either a majority of the vote in concentrated areas or a certain proportion of the vote across the entire state.

Xenophon has spent about a decade in the Senate, where the strength of his vote across South Australia, his home state, has enabled him to win a seat and hold it.  When elected to the Senate in 2007, he won about one in every seven votes cast across the state, which was enough for him to win a seat.  When he next faced the voters, in 2013, he managed to win about one in every four votes – he actually won more votes than the Labor Party, which lost office that year.  At the last election that he faced, in 2016, he won something like one in every five votes and held his seat again.

Now he’s running for a seat in the Lower House of State Parliament, which is structured in the same way as the House of Reps in Federal Parliament, where members are only elected if they win a majority of the vote in a concentrated area, such as a few suburbs next to each other in a big city or a large region full of small towns.

Despite having long been a popular politician among South Australians, I don’t believe that Xenophon has the support necessary to win a Lower House seat.  Generally, people need about 35-40 per cent of the vote in a concentrated area to have a chance of winning a Lower House seat.  But in the case of Xenophon, who’s disliked by the major political parties and some minor parties, he probably needs about 45-50 per cent of the vote.

He might be popular across the state, but he’s probably not that popular at any local level.  I don’t know if he polled 35-40 per cent of the vote previously in any areas beside one another.  Without this, no Lower House candidate can hope to win.

That’s why I consider Xenophon’s move to be courageous – in YES, MINISTER language.

There’s no doubt that both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party aren’t overly popular with South Australian voters at the moment.  But the courageous Xenophon’s toughest test in his career to date will happen at the next election.  It’s not enough for Xenophon to just say to voters, “I’m neither the Labor Party nor the Liberal Party.”

Labor has governed for sixteen years and really should lose, with the state’s economy hardly in good shape and with blackouts over the past eighteen months leaving doubts about the reliability of electricity supplies statewide.  But there’s not much enthusiasm for the Liberals.  Nonetheless, if I had to toss a coin ahead of the election, I’d tip a Liberal win over Labor, with Opposition Leader Steven Marshall beating Premier Jay Weatherill.

But writing off Xenophon would be foolish.  He’s surprised people throughout his career, and he can surprise again.  If anyone can prove an exception to the rule in the political sphere, it’s Xenophon.  Although he’ll never be Premier, and he’s already said as much, he could still win a seat in the Lower House, albeit probably with the help of preferences from other candidates.  How he goes in trying to win enough votes in a small area really will be worth watching, and his popularity will be tested like never before.


Liberal survival likely in Tasmania

3 March 2018


Tasmanians will have gone to the polls today for a general election which looks unlikely to bring change.  Having strongly voted for the Liberal Party at the last election, in 2014, they look like returning the Liberals, albeit by less than before.

Very few opinion polls are generally taken regarding politics in Tasmania, perhaps because its population is quite small.  There are only several hundred thousand people living in this island state.  But the few polls to be taken ahead of the election today point to a Liberal win.

In 2014, voters elected the Liberals to power for the first time in many years.  The Liberals had last won an election in 1996, and after losing office in 1998, they were in the wilderness for well over a decade.  The Liberal win in 2014 was very large, with fifteen seats going to the Liberals, out of twenty-five available.

The Labor Party, which took power in 1998 and governed comfortably until being forced into an alliance with the Greens in 2010, came away from the 2014 election with only seven seats, while the Greens won three.

The share of the vote in 2014, in percentage terms, was about 51-27-14 to the Liberals and Labor and the Greens, in that order.  This was a very big win for the Liberals.

Going into today’s election, the few opinion polls taken suggest a swing of something like 5-6 per cent against the Liberals, mostly going to Labor.

I should point out that the two-party-preferred vote isn’t calculated in Tasmanian elections, because the twenty-five seats available are spread across five electorates, with candidates winning seats on the basis of their share of the vote in whatever electorate they contest, so nobody needs a majority of the vote.  This is different from most general elections around the country.

As far as what a swing of 5-6 per cent against the Liberals means, the likely result will be the loss of two seats, probably to Labor.

Tasmania has five electorates – Bass, Braddon, Denison, Franklin, and Lyons.  Each electorate has five seats – hence twenty-seats on offer overall.

Bass covers the state’s north-east, and includes Launceston, its second-largest city.

Braddon covers the state’s north-west and its western coast.

Denison covers much of the state’s capital and largest city, Hobart, as well as some nearby areas outside it.

Franklin covers the remainder of Hobart, and some areas to both the east and west of the capital, in the state’s south.  Premier Will Hodgman is one of its MPs.

Lyons covers the state’s central region and much of its eastern coast.  Opposition Leader Rebecca White is one of its MPs.

Hodgman hasn’t always been popular as Liberal leader and Premier.  But he seems to have done a good job as far as managing the Tasmanian economy is concerned, because it wasn’t in the best of shape when he was elected, and now it’s in pretty good shape.  However, like with most elections, there are issues relating to housing and health and education.  Of late, there have also been concerns relating to deals that the Liberals have allegedly done with the poker machine and gambling sector.

But despite these issues, the odds are still against Labor, led by White.  Although she’s been on the front foot in terms of wanting to deal with these issues, Labor needs to virtually double its current tally of seven seats to win the election, noting that thirteen seats are needed for victory.  This looks impossible.

The only way in which Labor could possibly hope to win is through another alliance with the Greens, like what happened from 2010 to 2014.  Despite lasting for four years, it wasn’t exactly popular with voters, and the Liberals have frequently raised this alliance to arguably scare voters away from Labor and the Greens and others.

The question of this election might be what bothers voters more – anger about what the Liberals have done and are doing, or fear about another governmental alliance between Labor and the Greens or other minor players who might win seats.

With these things in mind, and with the polls appearing to predict a swing of around 5-6 per cent against the Liberals, I’m tipping the Liberals to lose two seats, leaving them with thirteen, which would be enough for them to win the election.  The result therefore looks like a Liberal survival.

They’ll lose a seat in Braddon, where they hold four out of five – an incredible result from 2014.  They’ll also lose a seat in Franklin, where in 2014 they won three seats.

Both likely Liberal losses will probably be Labor gains.  After Labor’s heavy election loss in 2014, there was always likely to be a swing its way at the next election, with many unhappy voters from the last election returning to the fold.  Nine seats look like going Labor’s way today.

The Greens will probably hold their three seats, in Bass and Denison and Franklin, but if they should lose any of them, it’ll probably be their seat in Bass.  With Denison and Franklin both in and around Hobart, where their vote remains strong, it’s very unlikely that they’ll lose either seat there.

The result likely in Tasmania today will be the Liberals holding office, albeit rather narrowly.  But they haven’t won many elections in Tasmania over time, so the result today might be theirs to savour.